Statehouse roundup, 3.12.20: Clow’s bill on SDE responsibilities is on hold, but debate remains unresolved

A bill that would intervene in the data management tug-of-war between the Legislature, the State Department of Education and the State Board of Education is on hold for now.

Rep. Lance Clow

But the larger debate appears far from settled despite the fact the Legislature appears to be nearing the end of the 2020 session. The debate could flare up again when the SDE’s office budget is debated on the House floor, a debate that could occur as soon as Friday.

Following a tense, two-hour hearing Thursday, House Education Committee Chairman Lance Clow asked the committee to hold House Bill 625, subject to his call.

Introduced just 24 hours previously, Clow’s HB 625 would specifically write administration of the Idaho System for Educational Excellence (ISEE) into state law as a responsibility of the state superintendent Sherri Ybarra’s SDE.

Clow’s bill was a response to the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee’s March 3 action to move oversight of IT and data management functions, including ISEE, away from the SDE and give it to the State Board. JFAC’S move would also take 18 full-time positions and $2.7 million away from Ybarra’s SDE and give it to the State Board.

Clow’s new bill and Thursday’s hearing represent the latest chapter in the wonkish, inside-baseball type debate over the intersection of policy-setting and budget writing. Clow believes JFAC may have overstepped its bounds as a budget committee by calling for the change of oversight over the ISEE database.

But Sen. Carl Crabrtree, the Grangeville Republican who made the motion in JFAC to move oversight to the State Board, said it’s not a policy change. Instead, Crabtree said JFAC, acting as the Legislature’s banker, is calling for a management change over administering ISEE. He believes housing all data management under the State Board will result in a more streamlined, efficient system.

“I’m standing here waiting on data I requested a couple months ago; others are waiting on data,” Crabtree said.

“A change in management occurs when you have problems with humans in your business,” he continued. “This is a business as I see it, and we’ve got some issues that have been ongoing with regard to data and IT. So, we’re proposing a management change. It’s not a crisis, not an end-of-the-world deal. It’s not even an address change, not an office change. A management change.”

The major parties in the debate attended Thursday’s hearing. Ybarra, State Board President Debbie Critchfield and State Board Vice President Dave Hill sat together.

Critchfield said she would remain neutral regarding HB 625, noting that the State Board has not met or voted on the bill or JFAC’s proposed move.

“This is a very challenging and somewhat uncomfortable position to be in,” said Critchfield, adding she was hesitant to weigh in.

Meanwhile, Ybarra specifically supported the bill and made a case for IT and data management responsibilities to remain with the SDE. She said such a transfer could be disruptive, costly and require rebuilding the system with a new security system.

“There would be a significant cost to duplicate or split service,” Ybarra said. “Attempting to split the SDE and the ISEE functions would require a complete re-architecture of the entire system to divide out some functionality and create duplicate functionalities.”

Because HB 625 was held subject to call of the chair, it is not moving forward to the House floor for consideration at this time. But Clow could revive the bill at any point.

In the meantime, he said he will wait until the SDE office budget comes to the floor, then raise the issue. Clow said it became clear during Thursday’s hearing that there is no plan in place for how to handle the transition to the State Board and he will use that in his debate over the SDE office budget.

Rep. John McCrostie, D-Garden City, said he would even push to kill the budget if it includes transferring SDE responsibilities to the State Board.

“I’m very concerned that there would be a disruption in service,” McCrostie said.

“JFAC should be writing the budgets and not writing policy,” McCrostie continued.

Career ladder bill heads to Senate floor

The five-year plan to boost veteran teacher salaries is one step away from Gov. Brad Little’s desk.

The Senate Education Committee gave its unanimous approval to House Bill 523, designed to boost veteran teacher pay.

The five-year plan carries a $223 million price tag, including $32 million in its first year. Over the five years, state support for teacher salaries would max out at $63,000, up from the current $50,000 cap.

Districts can — and do — pay some teachers more. But they have to come up with the balance themselves, often using voter-supported supplemental property tax levies to make up the difference. And schools still lose veteran educators to neighboring states that offer higher salaries.

“It is a critical investment on improving outcomes for students,” said Greg Wilson. Little’s senior policy adviser, urging the committee to pass HB 523.

Wilson had backup from a series of speakers — including Critchfield and two teachers.

“We have been bleeding veteran teachers to surrounding states that do pay much more,” said Stacy Wescott, a fourth-grade teacher at Fruitland Elementary School.

Critchfield said the state’s money would help local districts move dollars from teacher pay to worth and innovative classroom programs.

While the committee vote was unanimous, there was some debate. Sen. Lori Den Hartog said she was concerned the bill could lead to a proliferation of “bogus leadership positions.” Den Hartog, R-Meridian, based her concerns on a conversation she had had with an educator, who she did not identify by name.

Harold Ott, a lobbyist for Idaho Rural Educators, said local administrators will need to work closely with teachers and local unions on a valid way to identify leadership. “I don’t see this as bogus at all.”

HB 523 passed the House on Feb. 28, on a 52-10 vote.

Senate passes anti-affirmative action bill

The Senate late Thursday passed a bill rolling back affirmative action protections.

House Bill 440 would ban public agencies from discriminating against, or offering preferential treatment to, “any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.”

Debate split along party lines.

“It’s not about numbers,” said Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise, the only African-American in the Senate. “It’s about how we treat each other.”

Invoking civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., Senate Majority Leader Chuck Winder said the bill would represent one step closer to an ideal of treating all individuals equally. That goal might be unattainable, said Winder, R-Boise, “but I think we have to try.”

Education did not come up directly in the 30-minute debate. But earlier this week, the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce came out against HB 440, saying it could impact college financial aid, “further creating barriers to educational opportunities.”

The Senate passed HB on a 25-10 vote. The House has already passed the bill, but the House will have to sign off on the Senate’s amendments. If that happens, the bill goes to Little’s desk.

The Senate delayed action Thursday on a bill to ban transgender girls and women from participating in girls’ and women’s sports. That bill is now poised for a vote Friday.

Driver’s education fees

A bill to increase the rate at which schools are reimbursed for driver’s education training steered its way past its last major legislative obstacle Thursday.

Without any debate, a divided House voted 38-30 to pass Senate Bill 1278 as the House sped through its reading calendar Thursday afternoon.

Sponsored by Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, the bill would increase the amount the state sends school districts from $125 to $150 for each student who completes driver’s education. The bill only applies to public schools and districts that offer driver’s education. It does not apply to private driving school businesses.

Nobody who voted against the bill explained their opposition, but the House killed a similar bill on the floor last year. Several conservative lawmakers have expressed concern the bill gives schools an unfair advantage over driver’s training businesses.

Senate Bill 1278 heads next to Little’s desk for consideration. It passed the Senate 24-10 on Feb. 13.

Career-technical education staff

In other action Thursday, they House voted unanimously to pass a bill that would bring career-technical education instructors onto Idaho’s career ladder salary allocation system.

Senate Bill 1329 was pushed by Boyle, who described it as a way to recruit and retain quality, industry-experienced professionals to serve as CTE instructors in schools.

The bill would develop a ratio for recognizing an instructor’s industry experience and placing them on the career ladder. Supporters say the bill was also designed to provide a more streamlined path to occupational certification.

Senate Bill 1329 next heads to Little’s desk for consideration. It passed the Senate unanimously on Feb. 24.


Kevin Richert and Clark Corbin

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